There are very few cars that are comfortable – and can comfortably turn heads – on the high streets and also overload your senses on a back-road blast or run on a race track.
Supercars, by their very nature, are compromised in either dimension; trading outright performance for style, luxury and convenience or, vice versa, focusing on physics-bending, go-fast thrills at the expense of everyday usability.
There are exceptions, but they are few and far between.
Mercedes-AMG believes its heroic new GT teeters perfectly between the two diametrically-opposed attributes, using lessons learned – and the structural underpinnings – of its glorious, but flawed, previous flagship, the SLS.
The iconic coupe was dramatically retro with its Gullwing-opening doors and oversized bonnet that housed its magnificent 6.2-litre naturally-aspirated V8. Its half-million-dollar price tag was equally as theatrical, and limited its availability to the pinnacle of Australia's wealthiest car collectors.
But it wasn't the easiest thing to drive, particularly at the absolute limit with its hot-rod-style dynamics, nor was it was the most elegant car to alight from when you pull-up to the valet or at a red carpet event.
At first glance, the GT might seem a simple evolution of the SLS as it carries over the same front-engined, rear drive layout with a long bonnet and rear-set cabin. Tech heads who drill down into the nitty gritty of its nuts and bolts could also come to the same conclusion, as the GT uses a modified version of the bespoke all-aluminium platform first developed for the SLS, as well as the seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle transmission and double-wishbone suspension at each corner.
But the GT plays a completely different role for Mercedes-AMG than the SLS did; it is faster, more refined, more practical and more efficient and yet – most importantly – it has a significantly cheaper price tag.
Officially launched in Australia this week (and like all local AMG variants, only available in top-shelf S specification), the GT costs $295,000 (plus on-road costs) which brings it down from the rarified air of the SLS to become a genuine rival to the likes of the Porsche 911 GTS, Maserati Gran Turismo and Aston Martin Vantage. Considering Mercedes-Benz sold a total of 117 SLS variants (in coupe and roadster body styles) in the three years it was on sale, and the aforementioned trio accounted for more than 400 sales in the first half of 2015, it's highly likely you'll see a few more GTs on Aussie roads in the near future.
And those with $300,000 burning a hole in their pocket won't be disappointed. Despite its "more affordable" price tag, the GT comes loaded with more kit (and very few options), including a full Nappa leather interior with heated AMG sports seats, a high-tech multimedia system with integrated sat nav, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi internet accessibility, a 250Gb hard drive, digital radio and a 10-speaker, 640Watt Burmester sound system. There's also a full complement of convenience features such as keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone climate control and a panoramic glass roof as well as a long list of advanced safety systems from radar cruise control, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot warning to automated emergency braking.
Approaching the GT for the first time in the metal, its more taut body panels, shorter overhangs and the swoopy new liftback-style rear-end makes it appear significantly smaller and better proportioned than the SLS, even though it sits just 80 millimetres shorter in length and is just as wide, stretching almost two metres across.
It is no less dramatic to look at, even though the silver body work of our test vehicle cloaks its muscular stance like a tailored suit. Its head-turning ability can not be ignored as we're constantly faced with camera phones during our preview drive from the home of Australian sport, the MCG, to the ritzy Hotel Windsor less than a kilometre away – via a meandering back-country detour north-west of Melbourne.
Opening up the conventionally-hinged but frameless door, the cabin presents itself with even more theatre. There's still a wide sill to step over, but dropping into the low-set driver's seat offers a near-perfect driving position as the chunky three-spoke steering wheel falls beautifully to hand and the twin-pod instrument cluster is clear and easy to read.
The panoramic glass roof and larger windscreen in the rear hatch generates an airier ambience to the cockpit too, but the occupants are divided by a monstrous centre console that features four buttons cascading down each side of the alien-like touchpad and rotary dial that controls the tablet-style screen above the four air vents that dominate the centre of the dash.
Pressing the engine start button highlights that it's oily bits underneath the GT's skin that really provide its ultimate character. Under its shorter, but still dining-table-like, bonnet, the GT's AMG-developed 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 fires into life with a guttural bark, and then gargles a rich mix of fuel to quickly warm its catalytic converters before settling down and dropping an octave.
The biggest gripe – and it's nitpicking really – is the location of the gear selector, which is set back in the central tunnel and requires a slight contortion to engage Drive, Reverse or Park. But, once on the move, it's a simple matter of pressing a button to switch between full automatic and manual modes, where the slick steering wheel paddles take over the job of switching cogs.
Setting off with the GT in its default comfort mode, it genuinely is a comfortable cruiser. Although the smaller capacity motor can't match the SLS's outright power, dropping from 420kW to 375kW, the compressors – mounted within the engine's vee angle for optimum throttle response – help generate an identical 650Nm of torque, but 3000rpm lower in the rev range, from just 1750rpm. Its flexibility is immediately apparent, as the GT gently rides its wave of pulling power with the seven-speed automatic smoothly finding the tallest gear to lope along casually and help achieve a claimed average fuel consumption of 9.4L/100km.
Even at a leisurely pace, there's still a glorious V8 burble emanating from its twin tailpipes but it's hardly intrusive enough to disrupt a conversation or spoil the crisp audio from the Burmester sound system.
The steering is responsive but light, making it easy to manoeuvre through the tight city streets, and you don't feel as far removed from its pivot point as the SLS. The ride comfort from the adaptive dampers is busy but well controlled with only sharp-edge bumps really crashing into the cabin.
Out on the open road, the GT rapidly taps into the engine's torque for effortless cruising and quick overtaking, but it's easy to overstep the speed limit.
Where it really comes alive is in the bends. Flick the AMG drive selector to Sport or Sport + modes, which thickens the resistance through to steering to give it more weight and feel, tightens the suspension for less compliance and body roll which ultimately provides even more grip, sharpens the throttle for quicker response and relaxes the electronic stability control for a little more slip under heavy acceleration. Fitted as standard to all Australian-spec GTs, the AMG Dynamic Plus kit also includes dynamic engine and transmission mounts, which become more rigid in the performance modes to improve the car's overall agility at the absolute limit.
Off the mark (and using the launch control function in the final-stage Race mode), the GT uses its rear-biased weight distribution to hunker down on its haunches and slingshot from 0-100km/h in just 3.8 seconds. On the way there – and beyond – the engine roars right from the get-go, sonorously bellowing right the way through to its 7000rpm cut-out. Just as addictive though is the blurt from the ignition cut-out as it cracks into the next gear as well as the gargling of unburnt fuel igniting in the exhaust when you back off the throttle.
Even though it doesn't rev as high, the engine has just as much character as the 6.2-litre V8 it replaces, and even builds on that with a more linear whack-in-the-back through its broader spread of torque while offering greater flexibility and efficiency for everyday use.
It is also a major contributor to the fact that the GT tips the scales almost 200 kilograms lighter than the SLS, weighing in at 1570 kilograms, which ensures it feels much more agile and better balanced through the bends. It still has traditional front-engined, rear-drive characteristics – in that it will pick up the nose like a speed boat getting on the plane when you plant the throttle – but, even though the cabin position hasn't changed, you feel more connected to the front-end and less like you're sitting over the rear wheels.
At the absolute extreme, the 19-inch front tyres can scrub wide under hard cornering and the bigger 20-inch hoops can be overcome if you're too aggressive on the gas. In its stiffest settings, mid-corner bumps can also upset its position on the road.
Otherwise, the GT is extremely well behaved and as just as quick – and challenging – as its direct rivals.
Yes, the heroic new AMG flagship is an indulgence that few will get to experience. But, at the end of our day – from the 'G to high tea at the Windsor – it perfectly encapsulates its GT moniker; it is a stylish, head-turning cruiser when you need to it be and an absolute tyre-frying bruiser when you want it be.
Price: From $295,000 (plus on-road costs)
On sale: Now
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol
Power: 375kW at 6250rpm
Torque: 650Nm at 1750-4750rpm
Transmission: 7-spd dual-clutch automatic, RWD